Friday, October 24, 2014
On one occasion a values voter stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Friday, October 17, 2014
The other day I had occasion to dig around in the trunk of my car, and among other treasures I found was what has become my soundtrack for the week: Farewell to the World, the double-CD of Crowded House's final concert (in its original lineup) from the Sydney Opera House. Lead singer Neil Finn is one of the world's great living pop song writers, and that is surely on display, but the thing that's captivated me on this listen, the thing that keeps me listening - the thing that makes me glad for an excuse to get in the car, quite honestly - is the band's showmanship.
"She came all the way from America. She had a blind date with destiny."A crowd that had waited on their feet the whole day hears that line from "Mean to Me" off the band's first album and erupts in no-longer-contained excitement. The band knew it would happen, and they milk it and reward it throughout, with interactive interruptions to the set, like a call-and-response recitation of a beer slogan, a segue from the nightmare-inspired "Sister Madly" into "Climb Every Mountain" from the musical Sound of Music, and a Tina Turner impression that I can only guess is of her dancing, not her singing, since it's announced from the stage but YOU DON'T HEAR ANYTHING.
"Hey now, hey now - don't dream it's over! Hey now, hey now - when the world comes in They come, they come to build a wall between us. We know that they won't win ..."You can't end a Crowded House concert with anything other than "Don't Dream It's Over," their first and most enduring hit. But the song that I keep going back to, the one I play on repeat, isn't a Crowded House song; it's not even an entire song, actually. It's the chorus of a song by the Australian group Hunters & Collectors, a song that has become a treasured classic there even though it's hardly known here in the States. The band quickly cedes the singing of it to the audience.
"We may never meet again. So shed your skin and let's get started. And you will throw your arms around me."The original version of the song is intensely overproduced in all the ways you might imagine a mid-1980s pop song might be overproduced - sonic equivalents of too much hairspray and eyeliner and apocalyptic angst. But here it's stripped down: an electric guitar strumming the chords and thousands of people shouting the wordless refrain in unison. Originally an ode to a sexual encounter with a lost love, in the Sydney Opera House it takes on a more transcendent quality: Our lives are so fleeting, so transitory, and yet the things we do even in the limited encounters we have with one another can go on and on and on. Let's not weep over it; let's allow ourselves to be awestruck by it. Let's give ourselves to this moment together. TWEET THIS: We are bound together not just by what we sing together but by the simple act of singing together itself. "Our lives," Dorothy Bass writes in the introduction to her book Practicing Our Faith, "are tangled up with everyone else's in ways beyond our knowing." It's why we can sing a nonsense lyric such as "Oh yeah!" at the top of our lungs alongside 160,000 other people and walk away feeling like we've been to church. We already know what we know, what we believe, what we assume to be true. What amazes us is the hints we get here and there that there is more to it than what we know, that there is life and meaning and majesty beyond us. It's why atheists are having church services now, and it's why even agnostics and cynics and Baptists will still receive the Eucharist in moments of pregnant silence. It's why message art of any kind is so hard to pull off: putting too fine a point on our songs and paintings and films and sermons and blog posts for that matter stops a moment of transcendence in its tracks and shouts "Did you see what I did there!?!" My point? I guess it's this: You don't have to make a point to make a moment sacred; you just have to enter into it, receive it and take it with you. And it helps if you're not alone when you do it. TWEET THIS: You don't have to make a point to make a moment sacred. You have to enter into it, receive it and take it with you. Here's video of Neil Finn singing the entirety of "Throw Your Arms Around Me" with his friend and Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder. I hope you enjoy it, and if you can muster up the moxie, I hop you join in on the chorus.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Toward the end of the apostle John's grand apocalyptic vision, our Lord Jesus Christ takes his seat on the celestial throne and declares with triumph:
"I am making everything new! ... These words are trustworthy and true!"Having now arrived on the far side of quitting one job and taking another, selling one house and buying another, leaving one state (Illinois) and taking up residence in another (Colorado), I must confess that, at least lately, these words don't sound like unqualified good news to me. TWEET THIS: "I am making everything new!" ... These words don't sound like unqualified good news. And that's just the money part. The logistics of attending to all these adjustments taxes our brains and drains our energy. We drove all over town for several weeks, dealing with this or that, never really knowing where we were going. I still couldn't tell you how to get to Target, and yet Target constantly beckons. And that's just the logistics part. A new town means new church, new neighbors, new friends, and until you've worked that all out a new town means no church, no friends, and neighbors who wait for you to make the first move even though you don't have the least bit of energy left to make the first move. Not to mention that you're lost in this new place, craving a new familiarity, persevering as best you can until the bewilderment finally passes. I'm making it sound awful, I know. Pity the poor blogger. In fact we've been helped immensely along the way by people who have, in fact, reached out to us. A longtime acquaintance became a treasured friend virtually overnight; a couple of coworkers have been reliable guides and gracious companions throughout our transition; we've had dinners with friends and families we rarely saw back in Illinois, and we've got a surprisingly full social calendar. Stepping back and objectively assessing the scene, I can see the good in all the new. But life isn't a matter of stepping back; it's a matter of stepping in and wading through, of accepting the reality you're presented with and living well in the midst of it. And reality is a story being written, which means there is always something new on the horizon, some resolution to the current drama, some plot twist that no one saw coming. Even we are changing, not simply our circumstances: I'm not the person I was in Illinois, because in the process of moving from there to here, of letting go of then and accepting the reality of now, I am being made new. TWEET THIS: "Life isn't a matter of stepping back; it's a matter of stepping in and wading through." So are you, for the record. Don't get cocky. The process of change, happening as it is on both a cosmic and a subatomic level, is a humbling thing, and whatever it produces in us, it probably will make us more humble if we let it. And humility isn't just a virtue in this case; it's a resource. With humility we are better equipped to endure the embarrassment of asking for what we need. With humility we are more prepared to see the needs of people experiencing change and to offer ourselves to ease the burden. With humility we are better positioned to step back from the story we find ourselves in and to see the good news hidden in all this change, all this newness. "I am making all things new!" Jesus says, and he wouldn't say it if he didn't mean it, and if he didn't mean it for good. I'm sort of counting on that, because in the midst of all this change, any good news is a gift.
Monday, August 11, 2014
I recently attended a reunion of my mother's family. Not everyone in the family was there, but it seemed at times as though everyone in the world was there. The Gradys are Irish Catholic, which means they are both prolific and prodigious. And well-lubricated; in addition to two Grady-reunion-themed t-shirts we each went home with a Grady-reunion-themed pint glass - an appropriate memento if ever there was one. I had to leave early the day after the reunion for a cross-country road trip, so while I got to enjoy the fun of the reunion, I missed what might have been the most memorable part of the weekend. My uncle, the priest (now retired) offered to have the family over to his house for Sunday morning mass. Now, I'm not sure who all went - a few of my uncles, aunts and cousins have left the fold over the course of their adulthood - but my uncle the priest estimates about a ton and a half's worth of people showed up for the Eucharist. (That may be his subtle way of suggesting that some of us need to lose some weight, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.) I've heard of ministers comparing attendance numbers, but I've never heard of them calculating by tonnage. Anyway, at some point that morning the mass was interrupted by what my uncle describes as the "big bangs."
We have photos from the crawl space beneath the living room in my house. Two of the three bricks that, together with a cinder block, support the floor joists are cracked.There's a joke in there somewhere. And if not a joke, there's at least a sermon illustration. I can't really think of one, but maybe you have ideas you can share in the comments. I'm no great fan of church construction; I think a lot of money goes into it that could be better spent on other things. Moreover, I think often church architecture enhances the separation of the church from the world around it, and subtly trains congregants to assume a fortress mentality, as though the church is their only protection from the world, as though their first priority ought to be protection from the world. I rather like the idea of something so quintessentially Christian as liturgical worship being celebrated in a family room packed to the gills with rough-and-tumble guests. It's a dynamic tension that, apparently, can make a big impact. It's a potentially atomic mass. Anyway, no one was hurt at the extra-dense mass in my uncle's family room, although apparently none of my family members saw anything wrong with sending my cousin into the crawl space of a house that could collapse at any moment. My uncle is looking into what would be involved in repairing or replacing the damaged bricks. In the meantime, I'll keep thinking about what jokes, and what applications, can be culled from this momentous mass. I welcome your help to that end.